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Archive for the ‘The USA from the outside in’ Category

Hat NOT optional

A couple of caveats lead into this post, the first being that, yes, I have lived outside the good old US of A for going on twenty years now. The second, perhaps even more obvious to frequent readers, is the fact that my take on most Republicans is that they’re morons, evil or self-centered assholes, or, often, all three. The point in putting provisos in paragraph one? Fair warning.

I’ve managed to ignore most of the issue that’s now referred to by the unlikely title of “birtherism”, but in my time off from writing about annoyances this one has grown beyond the boundaries of ignorance … ignorability … whatever … into that dimension we used to call “The Twilight Zone”, but now has gone really scary.

An article in Slate that reports 45% of Republicans saying President Obama was not born in the US had me giggling … at first … with the thought that about that wide a margin in the GOP hasn’t quite got the scoop on Hawaii actually being a state. Although that’s probably true, it gets worse:

Among Republicans, 45 percent believe he was born abroad, while only 33 percent say he was born in the United States. More than a dozen state legislatures have discussed or are discussing “birther bills” that usually seek to force presidential candidates to prove their birthplace, although at least five states have been reluctant to actually turn the bills into law. Oklahoma could soon become the first with a vote expected next week.

What a fucking waste of time and money! And that’s not even bringing up the idiot factor.

As mentioned, I’ve not followed the the buildup to this pile of smelly residue, so followed this link to, TA DAAAA!, “Where it all began”, and am forced to admit it makes even less sense now.

That theory first emerged in the spring of 2008, as Clinton supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship.

“Barack Obama’s mother was living in Kenya with his Arab-African father late in her pregnancy. She was not allowed to travel by plane then, so Barack Obama was born there and his mother then took him to Hawaii to register his birth,” asserted one chain email that surfaced on the urban legend site Snopes.com in April 2008.

Another early version of the theory, reported by the Chicago Tribune in June 2008, depended on a specious legal theory that was, for a time, the heart of the argument: that Obama was born in Hawaii but had a Kenyan father, and his mother was only 18 years old. Therefore, under existing immigration law, he was not eligible for automatic citizenship upon birth — a claim that depended on an understandable, but incorrect, reading of immigration law. Other theories suggested that Obama lost his U.S. citizenship when he moved to Indonesia or visited Pakistan in violation of a supposed State Department ban as a young man. (There was no such ban.)

A birth certificate was produced — produced as in “handed over by the State of Hawaii”, not “run off with the help of Photo Shop” — but apparently proved about as much to “birthers” as any old piece of paper might, not surprising when many dedicated to the concept of Obama being foreign-born most likely have fake diplomas from Whatsamatta U hanging on their walls.

FactCheck.org, the non-partisan website, was allowed to examine the physical copy of the birth certificate in August 2008, and concluded it was real, that it had a raised seal, a signature and met all the State Department criteria for proof of citizenship. Combined with the state’s recognition that the record was real—and contemporary newspaper announcements of Obama’s birth, submitted by the hospitals —they concluded that he was a natural born citizen.

Hawaii has repeatedly confirmed the document’s authenticity.

“I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawai’i State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawai’i State Department of Health verifying Barrack (sic) Hussein Obama was born in Hawai’i and is a natural-born American citizen,” one exasperated state official said in 2008 and again in 2009 in a statement.

“Of course, it’s distantly possible that Obama’s grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president someday,” FactCheck concluded. But, “those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat.”

As 2012 looms … as an election year or the end of the world, you make the call … those tinfoil hats should be mandatory.

Of course, not all Republicans have fallen under the lobotomy blade …

Some Republicans take the position out of a basic respect for facts, but they also worry about its consequences for their party.

“It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company,” one of the first conservatives to turn against the birthers, talk show host Michael Medved, said in 2009. “I’m not a conspiracist, but this could be a very big conspiracy to make conservatives disgrace themselves.”

Hm.

What if …

Donald Trump has been hired by the Dems to stoke the fire under the bonkers birthers … cuz just maybe he’s needing a few extra bucks for those hair plugs he’s needing … so finds it worth it to make a complete ass of himself on the alter of complete assdome in hopes of either fooling all of the people all of the time or just enough idiots for long enough to be president or make the GOP a laughing stock.

There’s a theory …

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I began the day thinking a soft post on life in Seychelles might be a good weekend time-filler, especially after all the attention yesterday’s post got, thanks to WordPress sending readers my way by the thousands. I even started putting one together, a little ditty about how somethings translate here, specifically the fact that many Seychellois think the terror on the high seas in our neck of the Indian Ocean is perpetuated by “smiley pirates”, but that will have to wait.

Yet again something shiny fluttered by … ooooh, pretty … and I’m tripping after it with some hope of figuring out what it’s all about.

Okay. Maybe Julian Assange isn’t everyone’s idea of pretty fluff … or anyone’s, for that matter … but we have already established that I think he’s cute and have extended a blogitty invite to share my view.

Turns out such an eventuality could get me in BIG trouble.

No doubt I’m right pissed off that the US Homeland Secutiry Committee could be messing with my chance for a date for New Year’s Eve, but that unwrapping an Assange under my Christmas tree would see me prosecuted under the Patriot Act! WTF?

It took this from Tom Hayden to make that point in a letter he wrote to Rep. Peter King:

I am hoping you will reconsider your call to place WikiLeaks on the list of foreign terrorist organizations. I would hope that as chair of the Homeland Security Committee you would take a more responsible approach than many of your Republican and conservative colleagues who are calling for the assassination of Julian Assange.

You and I remember the time a few short years ago when there were extreme voices opposed to a visa for Gerry Adams and calling for the designation of Sinn Fein as a terrorist organization. And you and a bipartisan coalition were willing to take a risk for peace and conflict resolution, a process that is still ongoing and regarded as a great success.

The comparison, you may say, is incorrect. In one respect, there is a huge difference, which only strengthens my point: Sinn Fein was leading a republican movement that included years of armed struggle, with thousands of British and Irish casualties. WikiLeaks is a nonviolent whistleblower organization whose only weapon is the Internet. Despite weeks of dire warnings, the WikiLeaks disclosures have caused no deaths or suffering so far, nor provoked any terrorist attacks anywhere. The organization, and its media intermediaries, have made conscious efforts to redact any references to individuals which might cause harm.

The current controversy is less about national security than about securing the official reputations of officials conducting secret warfare. As a result of the WikiLeaks documents, the American public has learned, for example, that:

* our government is deceiving the public and Congress by denying our secret bombing of Yemen;
* our Special Forces are in Pakistan;
* the CIA has directed a secret army in Afghanistan;
* there is a secret Task Force 373 conducting assassinations in Afghanistan.

These revelations do no damage to our national security. Instead, they helpfully add to public and Congressional awareness of improper and arguably illegal behavior undertaken under the cover of secrecy.

If your proposal to list WikiLeaks as a terrorist group is adopted, my understanding is that anyone offering nonviolent “material support” to WikiLeaks could be prosecuted under the Patriot Act. As you told MSNBC on Nov. 28, “we’d be able to stop anyone from helping them in any way, whether it’s making contributions, giving free legal advice, or whatever.”

Do you remember when you stood up again and again for lawyers in Northern Ireland trying to defend republicans in court? Do you remember those lawyers like Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson being assassinated as a result of their brave legal advocacy? Are you seriously recommending that any American lawyers “giving free legal advice” to Julian Assange should be prosecuted?

The New York Times has provided page upon page of coverage of the WikiLeaks materials over a period of months. Is the Times “assisting in terrorist activity” because the information is “being used by Al Qaeda”, as you put it?

Where does this end? If thousands of Americans join in the legal defense of Julian Assange or WikiLeaks will they be defined as accessories to terrorism?

I urge that you and your colleagues not overreact, not turn to scapegoating, not contribute to a climate of violence, but instead respect freedom of the press, freedom of dissent, and the right to due process under a system of law. We all need more light shed on our secret policies, not greater limitations on the public’s right to know.

Sincerely,

TOM HAYDEN 

Bravo, Tom, and I’m happy to see he’s still around even though I lost track of him way back when. Seems those years with Jane keeps him mindful of how a girl likes the idea of a date now and then without the threat of treason hanging around … or maybe his point is a bit broader. Yeah … we’ll go with that thought.

I know I’m by far not the only one appalled by the reaction to Wikileak’s latest offerings … thank the gods for that! … but although outrage is wending its way around the globe and popping up in a lot of reasonable publications, I subscribe to the Arlo Guthrie theory that says: If ya wanna end war and stuff, ya gotta sing loud.

La, la, la, la LA!

Here’s another voice, hopefully preaching to more than the choir, James Moore:

Secrecy tends to lead to disaster and there are several object lessons to study as a result of American adventures abroad. Saddam Hussein was Donald Rumsfeld’s and Ronald Reagan’s secret friend as long as he was bombing and gassing Iranians to the east. Secrecy led to Iran-Contra and back door dealing in arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, who did not have the support of the country’s population and were eventually defeated. There are, of course, countless other examples ranging from the Gulf of Tonkin to the Bay of Pigs and the information contained in the Pentagon Papers, and, uh, of course, the lies about WMD that propagated our current misadventure in Iraq. Democracy ought not be bribing and lying in the name of democracy.

The horror over WikiLeaks, which is being expressed mostly by inept diplomats, is disingenuous in the extreme. The consistent claims that lives are being endangered by the information borders on the hilarious. How many lives have been lost to erroneous, yet secret information that led to our invasion of Iraq? If WikiLeaks had been around in 2003 the public might have been well armed with information to create political resistance to W’s folly in the ancient deserts. It is, of course, of equal absurdity to suggest there is no need for clandestine operations. But taxpayers and voters tend to acquire their information after the consequences of secret government endeavors, and, obviously, that is a bit late to be of preventive value.

This debate on Democracy Now over whether or not Julian is a hero is an interesting exchange between Steven Aftergood from the “Secrecy News” and constitutional and civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald that illustrates how even those touting transparency decide to fog the glass when it comes to Julian Assange.

The hunt is on for the man, his website is under attack, anyone helping him in any way may end up facing grave consequences … and what has he done to set the dogs on him as or more assiduously than the hounds of Bin Laden? Words. He did words. Not his words, but those written by people in positions of power now embarressed too have them read.

From the presenter of the debate:

University students are being warned about WikiLeaks. An email from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, that we read in headlines, reads—I want to do it again—quote, “Hi students,

“We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

“The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

“Regards, Office of Career Services.”

… and …

Democracy Now! has obtained the text of a memo that’s been sent to employees at USAID. This is to thousands of employees, about reading the recently released WikiLeaks documents, and it comes from the Department of State. They have also warned their own employees. This memo reads, quote, “Any classified information that may have been unlawfully disclosed and released on the Wikileaks web site was not ‘declassified’ by an appopriate authority and therefore requires continued classification and protection as such from government personnel… Accessing the Wikileaks web site from any computer may be viewed as a violation of the SF-312 agreement… Any discussions concerning the legitimacy of any documents or whether or not they are classified must be conducted within controlled access areas (overseas) or within restricted areas (USAID/Washington)… The documents should not be viewed, downloaded, or stored on your USAID unclassified network computer or home computer; they should not be printed or retransmitted in any fashion.”

That was the memo that went out to thousands of employees at USAID. The State Department has warned all their employees, you are not to access WikiLeaks, not only at the State Department, which they’ve blocked, by the way, WikiLeaks, but even on your home computers. Even if you’ve written a cable yourself, one of these cables that are in the trove of the documents, you cannot put your name in to see if that is one of the cables that has been released. This warning is going out throughout not only the government, as we see, but to prospective employees all over the country, even on their home computers.

If nothing else about the persecution of Assange scares the shit out of you, that should. ANYONE can be a target. And what directs the aim? Words.

As Captain Jack Sparrow said: Sticks and stones, Luv.

Or … for a bit more gravitas, how about this:

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Julian Assange … pallid and silver-haired … ‘shiny’ and New Year’s Eve go so well together, and before that he’d look great under my tree!

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So, Larry King has announced that he’s giving up the desk job, saying that stepping away from his nightly show will result in:

” … giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids’ little league games”.

Being that the man has been doing this for more than twenty-five years, there are few in the CNN-soaked world who won’t have some opinion on his retirement, his career, his suspenders.

Being virtually CNNless for a long time, not having him on the air daily won’t impact my life one bit, but I’m sure there are those who will miss regular doses of the King and his lineup.

I would, however, like to take the announcement of his departure as a chance to write a bit about that particular brush with fame, or the time I met Larry King.

Yes, I’ve met many a celeb, and although some consider an encounter of the “This person is on TV a lot” variety an experience worth wetting themselves over, I tend not to get all that jazzed. In fact, the only person I’ve come in contact with who inspired stuttering star-struckness in me was Jane Goodall, and Larry King is so NOT Jane Goodall.

Anyway …

One night I’m at this celeb-filled fundraiser in L.A. hosted by Jay Leno with Sting as the entertainment and the Douglas clan at the next table … no, not Fred MacMurry and his Three Sons, but Kirk and Michael and wives … and a host of faces recognizable by a huge percentage of the global population.

Just behind me, Larry King and a bevy of blond beauties. They’d come in after I’d been seated, and I couldn’t help but notice that in motion Larry looks very much like a six-foot-something insect … a cross between a praying mantis and a daddy longlegs. (And, yes, I do know that a spider isn’t an insect … my brother is an entomologist, after all … but if crossed with a pm it might qualify as an arachnesect … close enough.) He moved almost predatorily as he made his way around the room, meeting and greeting, then folded his limbs much like a skinny spider settling as he eventually took his seat.

At some point in the evening, we had a brief conversation in which it came up that I live in Seychelles. He’d never heard of the place. When I explained enough geography to get the Indian Ocean placed in his head, then mentioned that we only have one TV channel here, he appeared to understand exactly why the country had never made it to his radar.

A few pleasantries, and was I moved along to Mrs. Michael Douglas who actually knew where Africa is …

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Confession: I was a junkie.

No, I’m not talking drugs here … although given the decades I was misspending my youth I was far from circumspect, but that’s not what this post is about.

This is about news. I was hooked on it.

Starting in high school, I have written for newspapers, worked in TV newsrooms, yapped away on radio and made money keeping track of media coverage for companies, lawyers and folks whose babies won beauty contests. I’ve followed murder cases and exploding Fords, sticking 45-second clips onto reels that run for days … in the process stamping permanent images of mayhem to the inside of my eyelids.

For much of my adult life, mornings didn’t begin until the radio clicked on at about the same time the newspaper hit the doorstep, and my coffee always came with opinions.

Rehab for me was a small island in a big ocean a long way from everywhere else where there was one TV station that aired 5 minutes of news in English … didn’t matter, since I had no TV … and a newspaper that consisted of 8 pages. And … there’s no news on Sunday.

Cold turkey is ugly, and I suffered, right up to the time I shook the yoke of the constant flow of information on world happenings and it dawned on me that horrible shit can happen without me having to know about it.

I have learned to be a social imbiber of news, taking in what interests, educates or elucidates and allows me to participate in dialog with others likewise motivated to keep up with some of what is going on beyond the inside of our own front doors.

This being the case, this year’s Reporters Without Borders report listing “Forty predators of press freedom” has me tipsy enough to actually put a blog post together.

It’s a disturbing read:

There are 40 names on this year’s list of Predators of Press Freedom – 40 politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists. They are powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law.

There are few surprises, as it doesn’t take an article addict to have the dope on regimes like those in North Korea and Burma and know that journalistic freedom doesn’t even blip on the radar of rights denied. Zimbabwe, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba … ditto. Spain was a bit of a surprise, but that’s an ETA thing, apparently, like Italy’s issues with organized crime taking a toll on truth-telling in print or broadcast.

Personally, I’m not at all happy to see Mexico named as among the most dangerous countries for journalists, having had 62 killed in the last decade, and I’m happy Ernesto is a musician, not a reporter.

But back to my recovering news junkie status and how I’m dealing with this infusion of inclusion in the goings-on.

Strong arm tactics, murder, intimidation … yeah, yeah, yeah. Reporters will balls have dealt with this since Grag covered Yurk’s attempt to take over the cave by hiding the mammoth meat.

Quite frankly, all the predators described by RWB don’t scare me half as much as Fox News.

It’s not vicious attacks on reporters that will crumble the fourth estate to dust, but pretty people passing palatable pap to the people … the vapid to the vacuous.

Far more insidious and likely to put an end to journalism as we once knew it … Sarah Palin clothed as credible.

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Guess what I found in my post office box today. No. Really … guess.

(Take some time … )

Okay. Spilling now …

Today, the 28th of September, 2009, I open my PO Box to find … ta daaaaaa!!!! … my absentee ballot that starts out like this:

Dear Voter,
Your Vote by Mail Ballot for the November 4, 2008 General Election is enclosed.

You are designated as an Overseas Federal Voter. Your voter registration form indicates that you are living out of the country indefinitely. As a federal voter you are only entitled to vote for federal candidates in the following offices:
President, Vice President, US Senator and members of the House of Representatives. (And so on …)

Gee. Thanks.

I’ll assume that “only entitled to vote for” can be interpreted as ENTITLED to vote, which may be a bit tough since my ballot reached me almost one full year late.

Although Seychelles is on the other side of the world, it is actually ON this planet, and … hey! … we have a postal service that connects to other countries. My address on the envelope (no postmark to indicate when it was sent, by the way) is correct, and with “OFFICIAL ABSENTEE BALLOTING MATERIAL – FIRST CLASS MAIL” writ large across the front, it seems that slow-boat-round-the-horn was not to be an option for getting this into my hands.

I was in Sacramento, site of the return address, just a couple of months ago, so know that it has not vanished for one hundred years, a la Brigadoon. and that planes still fly from California toward the rest of the world, many carrying post.

Were I the conspiracy-minded sort, I may suspect that my declaration of Democrat on the application might have slowed down the process a bit, but … well … okay, that did run across the corners of my mind and felt no less far-fetched than the idea that I’m either living in a time warp or on some far-flung planet.

Imagine how pissed off I’d be if Obama hadn’t won …

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As a species, are humans getting dumber, or does instant access to information just make it seem that way? A couple of stories in today’s news have me pondering pandering as what was once journalism jigs toward justification with revenue being the mighty motivator.

Starting with all the flap over the President of the United States addressing the nation’s school children, I admit to being aghast. Although I agree that it was totally wrong for Dan Quayle to insist kids spell potato incorrectly, the country’s leaders are supposed to be role models, inspirational … every kid has the potential to be, etc. … and it is rather the job of the President to LEAD, even kids.

This article from the Heritage Foundation takes issue with that whole ‘leadership’ thing, apparently, reducing the office of the President to a political entity without merit .

Parents across the country have raised alarm about President Obama’s planned “back to school” address to American students. When the Department of Education released a lesson plan that included asking youngsters—how can you help President Obama?—parents’ concern that their children were being “organized” for political purposes was justified.

Helping the President is now a bad thing that children are to be turned away from, protected from the idea of? There’s a concept history will not take kindly to.

I won’t bother making too much of a point about the fact that math skills seem to be lacking at the Heritage Foundation … “This year, American taxpayers will spend $10,000 per-student on the average students’ public school education this year. A kindergartener starting school this year can expect to have $100,000 spent on his or her education.” … but will say that $7,692.31 per child per year is peanuts.

Considering the fact that Americans spent more than $66 billion on soft drinks in 2004 … and probably more than that in 2008 … that less-that-ten-grand (do the math) sounds meager.

And speaking of how things sound …

Yet for millions of kids, this six-figure investment will lead to dismal results.

doesn’t sound good. Turn it around, however, and talk about the millions of kids who make the most out of under-funded education, graduate from high school, go through college, establish successful careers, head up companies, raise families and keep the world spinning and the picture shifts from a boo hiss to hearty hoorays accompanied by no few thank-our-lucky-stars.

Arguments over a Presidential address to American children should have been nothing more than a tempest in tepid tea, sour grapes grumbling from some of those who didn’t get enough votes to be running the show right now. Contrary to the general welfare, however, the rabble raises revenue so rates regurgitation.

Of course, this isn’t only an American phenomenon. Over in Europe, they’re getting the short end of the stick from the press as it goes to great lengths to make a tall tale out of French President Sarkozy’s stature … as if his wife wearing flats proves he’s a heel when it comes to running a country.

The BBC headlines the story, “Sarkozy height row grips France”, and if that’s not insulting … even to the French (which might very well be the point, since this is from the BBC) … well …

Mass media … short on substance, but long on prevarication. Why? Because it sells.

We’ll be shortchanged as long as we keep buying it. Shouldn’t we have loftier goals?

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There are any number of temptations that have me wishing I could get my cute, straight ass to the US this summer, but the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall and the festivities that will ensue during New York City’s Pride Week next month would be enough to have me jumping a plane if that were anywhere near an option.

Forty years.

I wonder what the reaction would have been back then to predictions that in 2009 the city of NY would be puffing up and strutting its PRIDE.

This year’s 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion adds more significance to an already action-packed New York City Pride Week, when even the iconic Empire State Building swings into the spirit by turning its nighttime lights to lavender.

And how cool is THAT?

Having grown up in restaurant kitchens under the eyes of my father, a man who put no more stock in someone’s sexual prefs than in their pick of a fav color, my world has always had the benefit of a significant number of people of the homosexual persuasion, so any bias against has always puzzled me.

From the very first, prejudicial behavior based on what one consenting adult does with another consenting adult has indicated much more about the person spouting the prejudice than whomever was being spewed toward.

As a straight chick with all the usual man troubles, my gay friends have blessed my life … they know and accept more about me than almost anyone … and I don’t even want to contemplate where I’d be now without Robbie, Andy, Dan and many others.

Sure, I’ve had my run-ins with a few shit-mean drag queens, but they are a breed apart, and I have had much worse from shit-mean women, not to mention straight men who set their weapons to ‘stun’ then flipped the switch to ‘kill’ without warning.

So, although I won’t be there, in spirit I will be celebrating Stonewall and the fact that the world is now different … not different enough yet, but better … remembering those who left before this party, thanking all those who fought the good fight, loving all I love so much, and looking toward the day I can join in the dance.

If you’re in the area, please take in an event or 5, hug a bunch of people joyfully and remember what it has taken to bring the changes that have New York … and many other cities … proud.

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